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South Indian pictorial tradition has an effect on people's everyday lives

Using a South Indian pictorial tradition as an example, the researcher Anna Laine, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, examines different approaches to images and their capacity to influence people's lives and cultural conceptions.

The images, kolams, have an effect on people's states of mind and they mark the passage of life and the rhythm of the year.

The production of the images also accommodates individual experimentation, particularly on ceremonial occasions when the images are enlarged and more complex, says Anna Laine, who will be publicly defending her thesis in social anthropology at the University of Gothenburg

Every day before sunrise and sunset women in the southern Indian state of Tamilnadu draw geometric pictures, kolams, on the streets in front of the entrances to their homes. They thereby invite in deities in order to bring their family happiness and prosperity. The kolam makes the image of the home complete, both as a material object and as an inner cultural conception.

- Kolams are central to how people relate to and interact with each other and their environment. Drawing kolams is something that most girls learn at a young age. When they marry it becomes a part of their daily domestic chores. Through the continual recreation they are constructed as feminine beings, according to Anna Laine.

The creation of social relations

The thesis analyses kolam partly as a creative process partly as a material object. The aim is to contribute to extending anthropological approaches to and understanding of images, aesthetics and artistic practice. Images as co-participants in the creation of social relations is a central aspect in the thesis.

The images do not simply articulate or mirror cultural conditions, but also contribute to the way in which people relate to the world.

In line with other contemporary anthropologists who focus on visual aspects of culture (and conceptions within Hindu philosophy) the thesis emphasizes the close connection that exists between seeing and our other senses. Aesthetics are discussed as a multisensorial experience rooted in people's everyday lives. Different perceptions of kolam reveal that its aesthetic varies locally and also over time.

Processes of iconographic change take place through interplay between individuals and cultural norms. Despite certain formal aspects, the room for personal experimentation means that the execution of kolams can be defined as artistic representation.

One year's field work

The material for the thesis was collected during one year's field work in Tamilnadu, followed by shorter annual visits. The study has been conducted in both urban and rural areas and among people of different caste and class affiliations. Photography has been used as a method in addition to participant observation. A significant proportion of the presentation consists of photographic essays that relate thematically to the written chapters.

- This experimentation with the ambivalence of images, as with the relationship between image and text, comprises an important part of the thesis.

- Prior to my academic education I worked practically with images in various ways. It is partly this background that has led to my specific interest in kolams. What I have learnt practically from the experience of making kolams myself during the field work has been an important element in my understanding and in general I consider that a practice-based method represents an important supplement to those that are verbal and text-based, says Anna Laine.

Title of the thesis: In Conversation with the Kolam Practice: Auspiciousness and Artistic
Experiences among Women in Tamilnadu, South India.
Author of the thesis: Anna Laine, e-mail:
The thesis was successfully defended on 28 March at 10.15, Aulan, Annedalseminariet, Seminariegat.1A Gothenburg, Sweden.

Faculty opponent: Dr. Amanda Ravetz, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

BY: Lena Olson
+46 (0)31 786 4841

Helena Aaberg | idw
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